A TV ad for PopJam, a social media app designed for 7- to 12-year olds, seen in July 2019 on CITV. An on-screen image of a phone showed an illustrative ‘scroll’ of a PopJam ‘news feed’ which displayed various users’ PopJam virtual artwork. Large text on the right of the image stated “LIKES” with a heart emoji and with an increasing figure. The next clip showed an image of a phone with a different virtual drawing on its screen. Large text to the left stated “FOLLOWERS” with an image of a number rising quickly from 96 to 10,000. A star emoji was seen increasing in size as the figures increased. A female voice-over stated, “Get likes and followers to level up.”
The complainant, who was concerned that the ad’s encouragement to “get likes and followers to level up” could be detrimental to children’s mental health and affect their self-esteem, challenged whether the ad could cause harm to those under 18 years of age and was irresponsible.
SuperAwesome Trading Ltd t/a PopJam stated that PopJam was a “walled garden” social content platform for children and designed to ensure their privacy, safety and well-being. PopJam said it was different from other social media platforms, where likes and followers signified social status, because the purpose of likes and followers on PopJam was to progress through the levels in the app. They said that the statement, “get likes and followers to level up” was an encouragement of in-app play and was used as a means to unlock benefits and attain game satisfaction. PopJam believed that the claim “get likes and followers to level up” could be harmful if a child interpreted it to mean that attaining popularity was critical to enjoyment of PopJam, but that was not the case as on PopJam, children could create and share drawings, take quizzes, participate in creative challenges, connect with other children, and otherwise benefit from positive digital engagement.
PopJam acknowledged the statistic in the Ofcom report on ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes’ that 78% of 12- to 15-year olds who use social media or messaging sites felt pressure to look popular. However, they stated that it was also recognised that negative pressures were balanced by positives, with 9 in 10 aged 12 to 15 years old stating that social media made them feel happy or helped them feel closer to friends.
Clearcast said that the ad simply portrayed the in-app benefits children could gain from building up likes and followers, which was different to other platforms where likes and followers was for the benefit of social status and based on personal image. They did not believe problems with social status on social media could result from simply unlocking levels to enjoy a game.
The ASA understood that PopJam was an app designed for 7- to 12-year-old children and that the ad was seen on a children’s TV channel. The ad featured the claim “get likes and followers to level up”, which we considered explicitly encouraged children to seek likes and followers in order to progress through the app. We understood that there were other ways of advancing through the app, but that was not explained in the ad. We considered that the suggestion that the acquisition of likes and followers was the only means of progression was likely to give children the impression that popularity on social media was something that should be pursued because it was desirable in its own right. We were therefore concerned that the ad’s encouragement to gain likes and followers could cause children to develop an unhealthy perception that popularity on social media was inherently valuable which was likely to be detrimental to their mental health and self-esteem. As such, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause harm to those under 18 and was irresponsible.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told SuperAwesome Trading Ltd t/a PopJam not to use the claim “get likes and followers to level up” in future and to ensure that they did not suggest that gaining popularity and the acquisition of likes and followers were desirable things in their own right.